The Palestinians: Stripped of All Rights

Rights-free Zone

A curious notion seems to have been incorporated into the global system: Palestinians have no human rights while the Israelis have more rights than anyone else.

One would have thought that the creation of a Jewish state on land which has been home to the Palestinians for many centuries would have raised a few eyebrows at the very least. The powers that be felt, rightly as events proved, that in Palestine’s case the situation was different. The world looked on, with general approval, while the Israelis kicked the Palestinians out using terror as their main instrument. The dispossessed people have since lived, died and raised families in miserable refugee camps, often within sight of their previous homes. And the world still looks on with a distinct lack of interest. More than that; the victims seeking redress are now treated as the villains.

The Americans apologised for taking lands that belonged to the ‘Indians’. The Australians apologised for crimes, including pillage of land, against the Aborigines. However, even a demand for a simple apology from the Israelis for appropriating land that belonged to the Palestinians would be damned as an outrageous affront, not to say sheer anti-Semitism.

A State Built on Racial Principles

The Israeli state was set up from the start on strictly racial and religious demarcation lines reflecting rigid common beliefs that implicitly define the ‘chosen race’ as the masters. This applies in particular to questions of land ownership and nationality.

Stringent measures introduced by the Israeli government to safeguard racial purity have intensified in recent years. Marriages between ‘Israeli Arabs’ and Palestinians are now out. Family reunification is also out. In some cases the draconian measures even threaten to split up existing marriages (Sunday Times, 16 June 2002). No one seems to think there is anything odd about all this focus on race and religion. Had the same policies been adopted anywhere else there would have been deafening cries of ‘apartheid’ from every quarter. Just think of former Yugoslavia and you will get an idea of the different rules by which Israel is judged.

In the last few months the world was treated to a torrent of instances to illustrate the peculiar, some would say Kafkaesque, value system reserved for Israeli and Palestinian affairs. In April Bush, supported as usual by Blair, told Israel to withdraw its forces from the West Bank “without delay”. They remained where they were. Bush said “Sharon can’t ignore me”. He did. Did Bush add Israel to the ‘axis of terror’? Did he dispatch B-52 bombers and missiles to bring Sharon’s recalcitrant regime to its knees? No he did not. He called Sharon a “man of peace” and demanded that Arafat should stop the violence. This was done at a time when Israeli forces were rampaging through the West Bank in defiance of a raft of UN resolutions! This was also done with the full knowledge that the latest Intifada was deliberately provoked by Sharon and his infamous ‘visit’ to one of Islam’s holiest sites. Logic does indeed go through a definite warp when applied to Israel.

UN-free Zone

Israel ignores UN Security Council resolutions with impunity. Others in that situation are threatened with sanctions and military action. With explicit approval from the USA, today’s self-appointed global policeman, Israel is exempted from compliance with UN decisions that are not to its liking.

Israel’s recent forays in the West Bank provide many instances of this idiosyncratic situation. Following unease about the atrocities committed by Israeli forces in Jenin the UN decided to send a fact-finding mission. Following weeks of prevarication, Israel said the mission will not be allowed to enter the area. Remember we are talking about a UN visit to a refugee camp in the West Bank and not in Israel! The UN obligingly decided to forget the whole thing with little more than a shrug of the shoulders. The world’s movers and shakers chose to turn a blind eye to yet another Israeli massacre. That was considered logical and reasonable as the perpetrators were Israelis and the victims were Palestinians. So that is alright then!

The Latest ‘Outrage’

There was an almighty outcry when Cherie Blair, the wife of the British Prime Minster, dared to say “as long as young people feel they have got no hope but to blow themselves up you are never going to make progress.” The clamour to criticise her was unaffected by the fact that she was only stating the blindingly obvious. Care in selecting her words did not help either. She had taken the precaution to emphasise that there needed to be a political process that “gave security to Israel”. She was forced to apologise for the offence her remarks had evidently caused! Few could have missed the implication of that episode. Put simply, the rule is that you should criticise the Palestinians and praise the Israelis on all occasions.

In venting its outrage at Cherie Blair’s remarks, the Times (19 June 2002) devoted a large part of its front page to that topic. The paper returned to the same theme on page 12. Then to make absolutely certain that no-one is left in any doubt the paper covered the latest bombing episode on page 13, with a detailed listing of all the suicide bombings since the start of the Intifada in September 2000. One could wait for similar coverage of the much larger number of Palestinian deaths of children, women and men at the hands of Israeli forces and settlers during the same period, but that does evoke thoughts of hell freezing over!

Facts-free Zone

Clearly, the Times editor felt the topic has not been aired sufficiently. A leader was included on page 21 that said in effect that the Palestinians are sinners and the Israelis are saints. According to the leader writer, the Palestinians want nothing short of the total destruction of Israel. No mention is made of the 50 plus new Jewish settlements set up in the West Bank, in defiance of UN resolutions, since Sharon came to power. Nor, it seems, is the writer aware of demands by militants within Israel, including the ‘man of peace’ himself and some members of his coalition government, for the annexation of all the West Bank and the forceful deportation of all Palestinians out of ‘the land of Israel’. The writer is equally unimpressed, it would appear, by peace proposals put forward by Saudi Arabia and accepted by all the Arab countries, including the Palestinian Authority, at the Beirut summit. But then, why cloud a good story with facts? We are talking about Israel after all!

The Times was not the only paper to spring to the defence of Israel. The Daily Telegraph went even further in denouncing Cherie Blair and her husband. In this case, however, the motivation behind its agitation is a little clearer. In the words of Richard Ingrams (The Observer, 23 June 2002), “The Telegraph’s editorial line on the Middle East is determined by the views of the proprietor’s wife, journalist Barbara Amiel…a passionate Zionist…”

The fact are damning but no-one is interested. The Israelis and Palestinians signed the Oslo peace accords in Camp David in 1993 under which Israel agreed not to allow new settlements, or the expansion of existing settlements, in the West Bank. What happened next demonstrates the nature of the game being played by the Israelis: sign agreements with much fanfare and then renege on them in dribs and drabs on the quiet. In practice, the building and expansion of settlements in the ‘occupied territories’ accelerated in the years after 1993; the biggest increase took place during the Barak premiership. There are now some 200,000 settlers in the West Bank controlling in total almost half the land in the West Bank (the Observer, 23 June 2002). It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Israel has no intention to conclude a lasting peace in the West Bank. Talk of a Palestinian state is also little more than hot air. The sort of ‘state’ allowed by Israel, and the USA, would not be recognisable as a fully-fledged state by any stretch of the imagination. That was what Arafat was offered and rejected amid much condemnation by the USA. Clearly, Sharon hopes a new Palestinian leader in place of Arafat would be more amenable to such a proposition. It might be uncharitable, but George W Bush’s preoccupation with the ‘Palestinian leadership’ and the need for new leaders in his address in June 2002 might well be part of that scenario.

What Happened to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)?

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) maintains that “some declarations, most notably the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, have been understood as having the status of common law, since their provisions have been so widely recognised as binding on all states”. Surely not quite all states as clearly Israel, and presumably its benefactor the USA, does not feel that UDHR has any relevance to the Palestinians.

Human rights are said to be ‘universal’, they apply to all people without exception; ‘inalienable’, they cannot be taken away; and ‘indivisible’, all rights whether civil, political, economic, social or cultural are of equal status. Plainly, those who drafted the UDHR forgot to mention that its provisions do not apply to the Palestinians!

So what does the UDHR has to say in relation to what is going on in the Middle East? Article 1 mentions ‘dignity’ specifically. Article 2 highlights the universality of all rights. Article 5 prohibits ‘torture’ and ‘inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’. Article 7 focuses on ‘discrimination’. Article 9 refers to ‘arbitrary arrest, detention or exile’. Article 13 is devoted to the right of all people to reside, leave and return to their own country, while Article 15 enshrines the right of people to retain their nationality. Article 17 then turns to the right of people to their own properties. And Article 30 places an obligation on states, groups and individuals not to violate the rights and freedoms of others.

It is hardly worth stating the obvious: that Palestinians have not enjoyed any of the rights so unambiguously set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Suicide bombing of civilians is decidedly wrong and should be condemned, but so is assassination; defined by Sharon as ‘targeted killings’, that include blasting people and properties to smithereens by the use of tanks and helicopters. Sharon has appointed himself as policeman, judge, jury and executioner. He declared war on even ambulances and banks in his latest pogrom in the West Bank. And the world looks on with ambivalence.

How Does Israel Get Away With It?

The conventional answer, especially in the Middle East, is that Jewish interests and the Jewish lobby are all powerful. It would be wrong to underestimate this factor. Jewish business, media and political muscle is at work all the while to engender a biased response in favour of Israel and against the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular. The over-blown outcry that greeted Cherie Blair’s innocuous remarks, and the role of newspapers such as the Daily Telegraph (see above), speaks volumes on that score.

The effectiveness of the pro-Israeli lobby is made infinitely more potent by the guilt felt in the West about its persistent persecution of Jewish communities over the centuries. The slaughter of six million innocent Jews by Europeans at the time of World War II was a decisive factor in this context. However, anyone who has lived and worked in the West would come to realise that prejudice in the West against Jewish people and interests continues to this day. But these attitudes are carefully camouflaged behind a veneer of tolerance and blind support for Israel.

In short many people, particularly those in the West, have a heavy burden of guilt that is assuaged to some degree through outward support for Israel and unreasonable condemnation of anyone that threatens its interests irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the situation. Those harbouring the guilt decided, subconsciously or intentionally, to shift the burden onto the Palestinians. In the hubbub about relations between Arabs and Jews, the world has forgotten about the role played by European (specifically German) and American prejudice against and persecution of Jewish people. As one Palestinian commentator succinctly put it, the Palestinians have become “the victims of the victims of European history.”

The Arabs and Palestinians Need to Look Inwards

All the above is accepted. After all, what else could one expect but for Jewish interests to support Israel? Bleating by the Arabs and Palestinians about the unfairness of life would not change anything. In short, the Arab states and the Palestinian Authority cannot escape all the blame for the shameful way Palestinian rights have been violated by all and sundry.

When Palestinian grievances are raised the response in the West is invariably the same: most people in the Arab world do not enjoy the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, why should the Israeli government treat the Palestinians any differently? Two wrongs do not make a right of course, but that is still a powerful argument. The Palestinian Authority itself now stands accused of the worst excesses in this respect. It is futile for anyone to seek to convince the world in general and the Israelis in particular to give the Palestinians their rights in the absence of positive steps to improve the state of human rights throughout the Arab world.

The solution to the broader Palestinian problem lies, at least in part, in the hands of the Arabs leaders, including those currently in power within the bereft Palestinian Authority. Democratisation, throughout the Middle East, is a necessary precondition for sustainable progress in helping the Palestinians to regain their rights. Anything else would involve imposed remedies that would not offer real peace in the long-term.

Regardless of his real motives and sympathies, George W Bush was right to give the theme of democratisation such prominence in his June 2002 speech on the question of Palestine. It remains to be seen whether a new leadership committed to press even more forcefully for justice for the Palestinians and their cause would be more acceptable to Bush than the present leadership. Nonetheless, following adoption of a new model constitution and fair and transparent elections, the Palestinian Authority would not be so easy to disregard as was and is the case with Arafat and his close associates. The Palestinians have much to gain from accepting Bush’s words at face value.